We recently had the opportunity to try a second Ritz-Carlton hotel during a visit to the Los Angeles area. The Ritz-Carlton Marina Del Rey is directly on the waterfront, with available rooms featuring a partial or full marina view.
This would not normally be a likely choice for a work trip, but redeeming Marriott Rewards points made the stay competitive with typical “moderate” hotels in the area.
The Ritz-Carlton is a part of the Marriott family. The Points Guy values Marriott Rewards points at 0.9 cents per point. Nightly rates for a basic room at this property come up in the $400-500/night range, with an option to apply 25,000 points per night to reduce the price by half. The redemption value is pretty close to TPG’s estimate (25,000 points being about $225). While it’s not necessarily the best case for using a redemption, we wanted the experience in between work activities.
We could have spent 50,000 points plus $400-500 a night to get a Club Level room. Having stayed on the Club Level at the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco, we can say that if you’re going to spend time around the hotel, this can be a very luxurious experience–we’re already looking for an excuse for a mid-week mini-vacation to try the Marina Del Rey Club Level. However, traveling solo for work didn’t justify the expense or the experience.
We were lucky to get a points + cash rate under $200/night, which falls within most corporate travel guidelines. With Marriott Platinum Elite status, we received a 50% Platinum bonus , plus 1,000 bonus points as a welcome gift. There may also be a 2,000 point bonus coming from the current Megabonus program.
Something that comes up on many travel and credit forums is the topic of seemingly-obscene annual fees on certain premium credit cards. The Citi AAdvantage Executive Mastercard and Chase Sapphire Reserve VISA come with a $450* annual fee, and the gold standard (erm, platinum standard) American Express Platinum went to $550 a year last year for personal, and $595 a year for the business version as of February 2019.
Once upon a time, annual fees were a given in much of the credit card landscape, and rarely came with enough benefits to counter the fees. Today, many of these cards have features that compensate for, or even exceed the value of, the annual fee. In today’s post we’ll take a look at some of the most common benefits (especially with regard to the four cards listed above), and when you might find them worth the fee. Continue reading “Justifying a premium credit or charge card for your traveling pleasure”→
[Your author Robert here… I was pondering whether this was more soft topics for my tech blog, or travel. I’ll crosspost, since I think it applies to both. And it sat around in my draft folder for about six months, but it’s still valid today.]
I recently dined with my honey at a local chain steakhouse. I’ve been going there as often as weekly for over a decade. We’ve gone less frequently in the last couple of years thanks to Nom Burger, but still once a month give or take.
Their prices have been sneaking up over the years. The dinner for two combo they have has gone from under $40 to $65 as I recall, although coupons still bring it down. Some of the choices have become added-cost items, so if you want a wedge salad, that’s an extra buck, and if you’re lucky it won’t be smaller than it was last month.
But the thing that annoyed me was the 3% “minimum wage surcharge” that was stickered onto the menu and was slapped on the bill.
Slapping customers with your cost of doing business?
When I see a “minimum wage surcharge” or a “health insurance surcharge” on a restaurant bill, it rubs me the wrong way in a big way. It tells me the restaurant would really rather not pay a reasonable (legal) wage, or would rather not provide health insurance (maybe they’d rather have sick employees serving and cooking for customers?).
And a separate item could lead to lower tips as well. If you look at the subtotal to calculate the bill, 3% of that amount which is actually part of the cost of business is not included, so you may not think to tip for it. I didn’t think to look at whether the surcharge was taxed… is tax avoidance part of the consideration as well?
It wouldn’t be too hard to add 3% to the menu items themselves. If you were able to reprint the menus for the 5-10% price hike on certain items, you could easily add the 3% in rather than adding a sticker.
You’d also see a bit more money going to the employees you are hesitant to pay fairly or insure too. Sure, 20% of 3% isn’t a lot per cover, but over time it adds up.
It can’t just be surcharges bugging you…
As I pondered this particular sticker, I thought about parallels with fuel surcharges (for shipping and airline tickets) and resort fees (for hotels and, well, resorts).
The fuel surcharges seem similar; given the dynamic nature of pricing for airline tickets, it should be easy to adjust in a close-to-realtime fashion based on actual costs of fuel (or even to buy fuel more than a gallon at a time to absorb market shifts, which I think they do anyway). Shipping costs could be more complicated due to contracts with shippers and agencies.
Resort fees make them all look friendly and nice, of course; $30+/night for wifi and printing boarding passes is a bargain if you’re printing a thousand boarding passes, but more often it’s a great way to fleece customers and get away with false advertising. (Read some thoughts from The Points Guy and KillResortFees.com here.)
If you travel a lot, especially to Las Vegas, you’re accustomed to the resort fees, which as TPG above notes can be more than the room rate itself at cheaper hotels. But first-time travelers, especially those not on company expense accounts, may be disappointed and/or inconvenienced when their $30/night hotel room turns out to be $65+tax. Make it $100 if you have to park a car.
If you as a hotel operator believe that the resort fees reflect anything of actual value, why not either include them in the room rate, or make them optional? Surely all the people who find those services valuable will be happy to pay for them. Myself, I haven’t needed a notary or fax receiving at a Las Vegas hotel, well, ever… and based on Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts credits at several hotels, I know the wifi is worth $5 a day, and I’d pay that happily.
The analysis in the paper finds that separating mandatory resort fees from posted room rates without first disclosing the total price is likely to harm consumers by increasing the search costs and cognitive costs of finding and choosing hotel accommodations. The analysis finds that separating resort fees from the room rate without first disclosing the total price is unlikely to result in benefits that offset the likely harm to consumers.
However, to date not much has been done to address this, and resort fees continue to go up.
There are ways to get around some resort fees, of course. Caesars Entertainment does not automatically charge resort fees for Diamond and Seven Stars Total Rewards members, for example, and if you’re a high roller/have a host at other resorts and chains in Las Vegas, you might be able to get special treatment. But most visitors to Las Vegas will get slapped with a resort fee (and parking fees too!) that they get little or no benefit out of and no option to decline.
How do you feel about surcharges and fees? Do they affect your choice of destination? Or do you just consider them “part and parcel” of traveling and dining out? Share your feedback in the comments.
Update: The logistics of Priority Pass remain the same, but as of November 2018, Priority Pass has removed Campanile and Barney’s Beanery from the program at LAX, and added the Rock & Brews sports bar in Terminal 1 (not the one in Terminal 5). You can also still use PF Chang’s in the International Terminal, as well as Korean Air, Virgin Atlantic, and Alaska Airlines lounges. Always check the Priority Pass app or the website before traveling, and remember that properties can change without notice.
Welcome back to rsts11travel.
Those of you who have premium credit cards (like American Express Platinum, Chase Sapphire Reserve, and others) probably know about Priority Pass, a network of lounges around the world that you can get access to, either free or at a nominal fee of $27 per guest depending on your membership and number of guests.
For the few years I’ve been traveling heavily, I have not used Priority Pass benefits, since most airports I visit have either a Centurion Lounge (access via Amex Platinum) or an Admirals Club lounge (access via Citi AA Executive). The Priority Pass lounges have often been reported as crowded, less impressive than Centurion/AA/Delta options, and more likely to restrict Priority Pass access.
Well, Priority Pass noticed, apparently, and started to partner with non-lounges in some busy destinations. In addition to a few Minute Suite options at smaller airports, there are almost 30 restaurant partners in the US as of this writing, and you can use your lounge visit privilege in the form of a $28 credit at any of these restaurants simply by showing your Priority Pass card (or mobile app).
A bit over a week ago, Priority Pass added Campanile, a self-described “fine dining” establishment in Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) Terminal 4. We had the opportunity to try it twice this past weekend, once for breakfast and once for dinner. LAX also has PF Chang and Barney’s Beanery under Priority Pass, and three Admirals Club lounges (including a small one in the Regional Terminal for people connecting within California), and a Centurion Lounge is coming in 2019. Continue reading “Mini-trip-report: Campanile, a new Priority Pass “lounge” at LAX”→
The event was held at the Walter E Washington Convention Center, which is connected by underground tunnels to the Marriott Marquis. Having learned years ago that the event hotel is usually the best hotel for an eventgoing person, I chose to switch from my original reservation at the Grand Hyatt Washington (about 15 minutes walk, with a club room and Explorist status), to the Marriott Marquis (Not quite 15 minutes, but indoors, with a standard room, M Club access, and Gold Marriott Rewards status).
At check-in, the agent acknowledged my request for a feather-free room, and offered a $50 property credit which I promptly used on dinner that night. The lobby was mostly empty and there were only two people checking in at the time, so the process was quick and courteous as expected.
I got a two-doubles room facing the street, and an in-app request for body wash had been fulfilled with a bag of extra toiletries including body wash and hand wash. Marriott uses Thann products, which I’ve been happy with.
I was disappointed to find that the coffeemaker is one of the disposable-tray models, not the Keurig Mini I’d seen in review photos. It seems the upper floors offer Keurigs, whereas the lower floors offer the standard Marriott coffeemaker (which is almost the same as the standard Hyatt coffeemaker). So my box of Tayst single cup pods stayed in the suitcase, and I actually didn’t use the coffeemaker nearly as much as I’d expected.
Join the Club
Silver, Gold, and Platinum guests receive access to the M Club lounge on the 12th floor, even if they don’t get club rooms. A long, thin room with a nearly-as-long outdoor patio, the lounge offers coffee, tea, milk, sodas and waters, an espresso/coffee machine, and a still/sparkling water tap 24/7.
In the mornings a modest breakfast was offered, with scrambled eggs, sausage and bacon, potatoes, baked goods, and a few other items along with the regular beverage offerings and orange juice.
In the evenings, a bartender serves drinks (which you can charge to your room), and various hors d’oeuvres are available as well. Later in the evening, dry snacks and take-out style packages were offered, so you could grab some pretzels or other munchies and take them back to your room.
A hotel employee was checking people in for breakfast and hors d’oeuvres, but other times you just needed a qualifying key card to get in.
The coffee was exceptionally adequate, so I only ended up using my room coffeemaker once. It was just as easy to head up to the lounge and get a coffee and a snack.
Hotel Dining and Amenities
The hotel features a couple of dining options that were not disapointing.
The lobby bar with a light bar menu and, of course copious drink options
High Velocity, the sports bar offering lots of televisions and lots of meat (including a good chicken sandwich and some excellent burgers)
Anthem, a diner-style restaurant with breakfast and lunch service. The breakfast buffet was a good deal when taken with coffee and juice (as most hotel buffets are).
The Dignitary, a bourbon bar next door (which I didn’t make it to)
Arroz by Mike Isabella, a southern Spanish restaurant next door (which I also didn’t make it to, but wanted to)
There was also a Starbucks in the lobby, which closed at 4pm. I never made in there, but the coffee in the M Lounge was quite adequate.
A small but reasonably-stocked gift shop is located around the corner from the main desk. There is a very convenient CVS pharmacy half a block from the back side of the hotel, which combined with the mini-fridge in the room (under the coffeemaker) could be very convenient for families staying here.
Exploring the Area
This was my first time in Washington in over 30 years, so I was happy to have a day to explore the Capital before my convention began.
I was quite surprised with the convenience of the hotel’s location; my tourist walk started with a bit less than a mile’s walk to the White House, continuing around it to the National Mall, the Washington Monument, the National World War II Memorial, and on to the Lincoln Memorial. The final walking tally was a bit over two miles, and I decided to take a ride-share back to the hotel from there.
If you’re visiting Washington, be aware that not everything is open, and not everything is as open as it used to be. For example, since repairing a crack in the Washington Monument from the 2011 earthquake, they found that the elevator needed to be replaced as well, so the Monument itself is closed through at least 2019. And for those of you wanting to get close to the fence at the White House, you probably won’t be able to. Security is very visible and there are additional layers of fencing all around, and line corrals near the Pennsylvania Ave gates.
Some coworkers and I went back out a couple of nights later for a night-time bus tour of the landmarks. For $39, it was two hours well spent, with an entertaining guide and only minimal interaction with tree branches in the open-top double-decker bus.
Most meals were taken at the hotel, or provided by the conference at the convention center. However, I did have a chance to visit a couple of restaurants, specifically the Rocket Bar, and Matchbox in Chinatown twice. I was quite pleased with Matchbox’s mini burgers (their apparent claim to fame) during a party, and returning with a colleague the next day we had a chance to enjoy the tomato mozzarella arancini and a pizza.
Those are our highlights from the trip, both at the hotel and around the City. I’d intended to visit Martin’s Tavern in Georgetown, where Senator John F Kennedy proposed to Jacqueline Bouvier in 1953, but didn’t make it quite that far out of the center of the capitol this time.
What do you think we missed? What are your go-to locations in Washington for dining, sightseeing, or just relaxing?
Photo credits: Map courtesy of Google Maps and its contractors. All photos (C) 2017 by Robert Novak, taken during this trip.
A couple of weeks ago, my niece sent me a note letting me know she was on my coast for a change, staying in LA for a couple of weeks with her grandmother. Since I hadn’t seen her since last fall’s Disney World trip, and won’t be down there for another year probably, I decided to try to make a road trip work.
After looking at major chain locations within half an hour of the suburb she was staying in, we decided to try the historic Beverly Hilton, perhaps obviously a Hilton property, a few blocks from Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Known for the Daytime Emmys and Golden Globes as well as numerous other entertainment industry events, it’s an older hotel (opened 1955) that’s seen some interesting ownership changes and refurbishments over the last 60+ years.
There is a brand new Waldorf Astoria adjoining the Beverly Hilton, but the rates would’ve been exorbitant for what was meant to be a crash pad stay, not a spa getaway. Maybe next time we’ll try something on that scale.
Thanks to expensive work stays at New York City Hilton properties over the last couple of years, we easily had enough Hilton Honors points for a two night stay. We booked with about thirty hours notice, dug into local exploration options, and packed up for the drive from San Jose to Los Angeles.
Staying at the Beverly Hilton
Unbeknownst to us, the weekend we visited had the Television Critics Association conference and the PBS conference back to back, so it was a bit crowded and there were no upgrades available. We did share air with a number of celebrities, and passed Nicole Kidman outside the Lobby Bar at one point.
The only reward rooms available were single king bed rooms, and there were no upgrades available, which complicated things for a two-teens-and-two-adults stay. We got a complimentary rollaway bed, and picked up an air bed for additional sleep space.
Our check-in agent was kind enough to upgrade our complimentary continental breakfasts to buffet passes, in consideration of the lack of a Hilton Honors Gold upgrade. We also got a pod-style coffeemaker, with plenty of pods and a bonus bottle of water, at no extra cost.
The King Bed Standard room went for 60,000 Hilton Honors points a night, including two bottles of Evian a night and breakfast passes for four. For super-short notice we would’ve been looking at $328/night, or $365/night for the breakfast plan, plus 15.5% + $0.80/day taxes.
That comes to $844.75 or 0.7 cents per point. The Points Guy has a valuation of 0.6 cents, and we got a total of four upgraded breakfasts (about $15 value each) and three bonus buffet breakfasts over the course of the weekend (about $50 value each), so we came out well ahead of the average.
The hotel and the room
The room we stayed in was a single king room, at about 356 square feet with an odd shower/tub (left) and a view of the driveway and one of the hotel signs (shown at the top of the page). It felt larger than, say, the basic rooms at the LAX Marriott or the Sheraton in Midtown Manhattan, but wasn’t all that cramped.
The bathroom had a sliding door, more of what you’d expect for a closet than a bathroom. For family it wasn’t too bad, as we’ve been in closer quarters, but there wasn’t much soundproofing from the sliding door.
Coffeemakers are available on request, at no charge, featuring a dual pod brewer and Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf coffee pods. A reasonable minibar is also provided, with an unchilled courtesy shelf in case you need to stash some leftovers.
The parking was either valet and self-parking, at $42/night including tax either way. The hotel also advertised a courtesy vehicle for trips of a mile or less from the hotel, but they were backed up due to crowds (even with the critics show having their own limo service), so after 20 minutes we called an Uber (which arrived at the same time as the courtesy vehicle).
Dining and sightseeing
We chose to have breakfasts at Circa 55 on the lower level of the hotel, with the standard buffet on Saturday morning and the “champagne brunch,” described as “a Beverly Hills tradition,” on Sunday morning. Our other meals were outside the hotel, to get some different local flavor. We didn’t make it to Trader Vic’s for a Mai Tai, unfortunately.
The included breakfast coupons covered the standard buffet (approx. $30 plus 18% service charge), or an equivalent credit toward other purchases (i.e. the Sunday brunch at $45). I believe the credit also included a proportional credit for the service charge when we upgraded our meal.
Saturday we had a great experience, with an attentive waitress and great service at the omelet station. Sunday, the omelet station was still good, but we waited nearly half an hour from seating to get drinks ordered. It was at opening time for the full buffet, but the property was not crowded so this experience was disappointing. The food was good though. Comparing the $45 “bubbly brunch” to the $95 Sterling Brunch Buffet, which is our regular “tradition” buffet in Las Vegas, I’d say it might have been a bit overpriced on its own, but the typical hotel premium makes it about right.
For the first night’s dinner, we went to Roni’s, a little hybrid Italian/Cajun/Mexican/little-bit-of-everything joint just across Melrose (but on the far side, so a bit of a hike). The food was great, although the TVs on the walls of the small venue were a bit distracting.
Two friends from different parts of our lives recommended Brent’s Deli in Northridge, so we took the whole family there after a visit to the Los Angeles Zoo, and we were not even slightly disappointed. Plenty of food was provided for a great value (under $20 each with beverages), and the range of choices was amazing. It’s hard to pass up a good Reuben (the Black Pastrami Reuben is pictured below0, although my niece appreciated her “SF Burger” and a couple of other choices rounded out the table.
While we didn’t make it to these two other options, they’re worth noting. On the corner of Santa Monica and Wilshire Blvd was a Starbucks Reserve location that would’ve been tempting if they hadn’t closed before we finished dinner. These locations tend to have upscale decor and extra beverage choices, including custom sodas, Clover coffee brewers, and sometimes even alcohol.
This trip was unusual, both in the sense of driving my own car in a “distant” location (rather than a rental), and in being able to spend time with my extended family on my coast for the first time ever. The drive was cheaper than flying three of us down on a day’s notice, and we had the chance to stop off at Pyramid Lake on the way home.
I would say the hotel had glamour but not luxury, although it was comfortable and convenient for our needs. The Sheraton Universal might have been more spacious, but I’ve stayed there several times so it wouldn’t have been adventurous (and we might have been tempted by Universal Studios rather than the LA Zoo, which would’ve been costly, especially for a Disney family). We’ve had some spacious rooms at the Coast Annabelle in Burbank (walking distance from the Walt Disney Studios), but the dining there wasn’t all that great.
We’re not all that likely to head back very soon, since the family is on the other coast most of the year and my job doesn’t take me to the LA area very much anymore. But it was a fun experience and a reasonable value for the hotel experience we had.
In the past eight days we’ve dined on burgers six times. This is about four more than our usual weekly burger quota, but a week in Las Vegas warrants some exploration. Let’s take a look around the week of burgers.
In This Post:
Gordon Ramsay Burger, Planet Hollywood, Las Vegas (Total Rewards)
Michael Mina Pub 1842, MGM Grand, Las Vegas (MLife Rewards)
Fleur by Hubert Keller, Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas (MLife Rewards)
Gordon Ramsay Burger, again
Nom Burger, Downtown Sunnyvale, California
Jack In The Box, San Jose, California
Prices listed are modest estimates; you can spend a bit less or a whole lot more at any of the venues.